The Never Ending Tour Extended: Times they are a changin’ 1987 – 1995


The Never Ending Tour Extended: Comparing recordings of Dylan performing his own compositions across the years.

This series uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary, is by Tony Attwood.

“The Times They Are A-changin'” was played by Dylan 633 times between 1963 and 2009, and remains a song by which many people who are not particularly interested in Dylan’s music, know as one of his prime songs.  It seems utterly curious today that it was released as a 45 rpm single in the UK and was a top 10 hit.  I don’t think it was ever a single in America.

We first picked it up on the Never Ending Tour in 1987 in the very first episode of the “Never Ending Tour” series and of course everyone knows the song immediately from the introduction… which then turns into a complete verse as a harmonica solo followed by … a second verse with a really interesting piano solo alongside it, before Bob launches forth.

But the melody has gone to a large degree as Bob declaims his message with just a few lines sung.  Just listen to the Senators, Congressmen verse.

What we also find is that the inter-verse interlude often vanishes completely.  Then around the four minute mark we get an instrumental verse without a lead followed by a vocal verse which is almost a parody of Bob’s vocal style… by Bob himself.   It is, to my ears, a very strange, and not very endearing, version.

1987 – Farewell to all that

One year on Bob had retained something of the notion of the breaking the lines into fragments that he can almost bark out, but the extremes have gone.   Instead, some of the poignancy of the song has returned, at least for the first couple of minutes.   But Bob still seems to want to blame the mothers and fathers with a vehemence that isn’t in the original.

And yet… listen to the instrumental verse that starts around 2’30” – there is a delicacy and poignancy here which is in total contrast to the barking out of two and three words segments that dominated last year’s performance.

So when we get to the line that is drawn, the song expresses once more its sympathy for the underdog without throwing mud all over those who have benefitted by the old system.

And then we have a most delicate and yes I would say “lovely” final instrumental verse.   All in all it’s a strange contrast between the piece as an aggressive denouncement of those in control, and a gentle lullaby for the downtrodden whose time is to come.

 1988 – Heroes and Villains


And so jumping forward once again – and just what a contrast we find in 1995.  Indeed this is one of those moments where I give myself a metaphorical pat on the back and call out to my pals, “hey just listen to this”.   For of course I heard this recording when Jochen first presented his article (linked below) which included this recording, but I wasn’t hearing it then in contrast to how the song had sounded in the early days of the tour.

In those early days, it was almost as if Dylan had not thought whatsoever as to the power of the lyrics or the generational importance of the song.  There was no thought of treating it as a treasured monument to be brushed down and maybe given a careful new coat of paint.  It was just “here it is, take it”.

But now we have that delicacy that I feel the song needs, and more, and I must say I utterly love this version, because it retains the power and elegance of the original, along with a desperate reflection that far from getting better the situation is getting worse.

Here the orignal three-minute statement of a world gone wrong is now an eight-minute elegy.   There is no hope now, for this is a lament for everything that went wrong, and which all of us, with all our hopes, plans, dreams and desires found that all we could do was to try and live decent lives while all around us the world fell apart.

If there were ever to be a CD of “The Never Ending Tour: The Greatest Moments” this would be on it, probably as the closing track.

1995: The Prague Revelation and other astonishments

Other articles in this series…

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